Just as Harvey Weinstein was walking out of The New York Times building, after an interview about his handling of donations to an HIV research charity, reporter Jodi Kantor approached the powerful Hollywood producer with a question.
As recounted in the book, “She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement,” written by Kantor and Megan Twohey, Weinstein leaned in close. Kantor steeled herself, then asked him for an interview about his treatment of women. Kantor and Twohey had been investigating allegations of sexual assault by the powerful film producer for months.
Let’s talk about it now, Weinstein said that day in September 2017: “I’ll tell you everything. We’ll be transparent and there will be no article.”
Kantor declined. She and Twohey would reach out when they were better prepared, she writes in “She Said.”
Weinstein stepped in closer, causing Kantor to let out a nervous laugh. He hadn’t done the awful things those women had accused him of, he told her. He wasn’t that bad.
Then he smiled scornfully and said, “I’m worse.”
Weeks later, Kantor and Twohey’s reporting on Weinstein’s alleged sexual assault of women would ignite the #MeToo movement, and embolden women across the country and around the world to tell their stories of sexual assault and intimidation by powerful men. Of careers that never started, or were stopped in their tracks, and the resulting, lifelong emotional trauma.
The stories also brought a change in the power balance between the sexes — and the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for public service for Kantor and Twohey, who went on to write “She Said,” about their pursuit of the Weinstein story.
They will speak about all of it on Jan. 29 at Benaroya Hall, an event that, based on Kantor’s experience, likely will be more of a group-therapy session.
“Some of them have been really emotionally intense,” Kantor said over the phone from New York recently. “I will be listening to every word people have to say.”
Kantor was preparing for Weinstein’s trial, which began Jan. 6 in Manhattan. He is charged with five counts of predatory sexual assault, criminal sex acts and rape.
Just hours before the trial began, Weinstein was charged with four more counts of rape and sexual battery in Los Angeles.
Last month, Weinstein and the board of his bankrupt studio reached a tentative $25 million settlement agreement with dozens of his alleged victims. The settlement does not require Weinstein to admit wrongdoing or pay anything to his accusers out of his own pocket.
“In one stroke he’s going to sweep it all away,” Kantor said. “Not pay a penny or declare accountability.”
And yet, the work of Kantor and Twohey — along with that of Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker, who shared the Pulitzer — is undeniable.
“It has taken everything we thought about journalism, and underlined it three times,” Kantor said. “Facts matter, stories matter, reporting protects women and reporting can have impact, even in an era when it feels like our notion of truth is collapsing.”
“She Said” is reminiscent of “All the President’s Men” for its behind-the-scenes account of the delicate dance of a newspaper investigation. The skill involved in coaxing sources to talk, to share sensitive documents, and then poring over them. The decision to hold the story until facts were verified by more than one source, then verified again.
“Once we understood how much the Weinstein story meant to so many people around the world, we wanted to being other people in on the journey,” Kantor said. “So much was off the record. The drama that played out behind the scenes. It was galvanizing, it was upsetting, it was surprising.
“We wanted to bring everyone else into our partnership.”
And into the pressure.
“The main emotion Megan and I felt was an enormous responsibility,” Kantor said. “Can you imagine if we failed to get the story or reported something wrong? I feel like we were performing several surgeries at once, and then after the story broke and we saw the global reaction, there were so many more stories.”
The book is called “She Said” because it tells not only the story of what happened to Weinstein’s accusers, but why they came forward.
“It was the result of decisions by a very brave group of women who had lots of reasons not to tell their stories,” Kantor said. “But they spoke out. And that has changed things for the rest of us.”